I have quite a few hikes planned for this year and as I sit looking at the route for the first of these hikes, The South Yorkshire Way, it struck me just what a misnomer that statement is – ‘a few hikes planned’.
You see, I don’t really plan my hikes. Whether it’s a quick overnight wild camp or a muti-week, backpacking, long distance hike I hardly plan my adventures at all. I don’t write gear lists; I don’t spend more than a few minutes deciding what gear I need; I don’t plan where or when I will pitch my tent; I don’t study the route I will take; I don’t set daily mileage targets, I don’t obsess over pack weight and I rarely have a fixed time to finish a hike. In fact, about the only ‘planning’ I do do is decide when and where I will start a backpacking trip, where I will end it and plot a likely route between those two points on a map. That’s it!
Now I will give you a few moments to come around from the shock of my ‘confession’….
Ok. Deep breaths. Are you still with me folks?
You see, for a lot of you reading this, the idea of not creating a spreadsheet for every trip detailing your gear, it’s weight, where in your backpack the gear will go and then laminating the spreadsheet so you won’t damage it when you take it on your backpacking trip is, quite simply, frightening! I know – I have read your blogs 😉
For many people, not having a guide book, laminated OS maps of every inch of a planned hike, daily mileage targets and predetermined camp spots is unthinkable. Again – I read the blog posts. And I have hiking buddies who plan their trips (and ours when we hike together) meticulously too so I know folks take this stuff seriously.
Now there is nothing wrong with planning a hike – especially long distance backpacking hikes. For many people I know planning a hike in detail is actually part of their hike. It adds to their enjoyment of the whole hiking experience. And of course there is also a safety aspect to planning your hike in detail and that’s to be encouraged. For many backpackers gear lists, detailed route plans, accommodation details etc. are as much a part of their adventure as is the actual hiking.
For example; a hiker and eminent blogger I admire greatly Brian Green (@bfgreen on Twitter) wrote a blog post a few years ago extolling the merits of creating and managing gear lists – Gear Lists – Not Just For Gram Weenies! and what Brian says makes sense – I encourage you to read his blog post. It talks about how lists can better prepare you for future adventures and help you learn about your kit needs (amongst other, equally valid, ideas).
But, for me, it’s the antipathy of what I enjoy about hiking. Lists, spreadsheets, detailed plans, mileage charts, gear weight comparisons, even something as incongruous as ‘peak bagging’ – all seem like ‘work’ to me. Everyday life is full of planning, making lists, following schedules, clock watching, target achieving etc etc. and that’s before we consider what our daily paid jobs entail! I hike to leave all that behind! To trust myself to walk as far as I want, to camp when I want, to pack my gear away without fear of leaving something behind. To know what kit I need, to know that I am not bound to a predetermined route or racing to meet a finish deadline. To do this for days, even weeks at a time without lists, plans and schedules is, in my experience, truly liberating and allows for more self reliance and thus more freedom.
I have been hiking and backpacking for over 30 years now and have only once planned, in any detail, a trip – and that was my first solo camp aged 14. Since then I have tried to help plan a couple of joint backpacking adventures – The Pennine Way in 2013 with my good friend Dean Read and a three day wild camp adventure with 3 friends – but I just didn’t enjoy the process. Now there were no gear lists involved in either of these trips, but there was mileage planning, camp planning and tight schedules to be taken into consideration and I just couldn’t offer any reasonable contribution to the planning process. Instead I left the details to my hiking companions and just went with the flow. This isn’t to say I am lazy or unwilling to help with planning a trip, rather I am unfamiliar with the process and think it best left to those who enjoy it and know what they are doing.
These days I hike a lot with Stuart Greig, one of my best friends, and Stuart with tell you that, when it comes to trip preparation, we couldn’t be more polar opposite. Stuart loves attention to detail and obviously I don’t, yet we make very good hiking buddies. Why? Because we respect each others ways of preparing for a backpacking adventure. There is no right or wrong way. Stuart and I can hike for days together and still hike our own hike although our preparation for the hike is so different.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with gear lists, weight charts and any form of detailed planning for hiking and backpacking – they can certainly increase ones enjoyment of a hike and subsequent hikes. And for inexperienced hikers these things can help relieve any anxiety about venturing forth into the relative unknown.
But for some of us, especially the more experienced hiker and backpacker I would suggest letting go of these security blankets and simply head off and let the path lead you where it may. Walk as far as you feel like each day. Camp wherever you find yourself when tired or ready to stop for the day. Trust your experience with your kit and trust yourself to pack it all away each morning. Trust your judgement, your experience and just once throw away your gear lists, your schedules, your checklists and go and have an adventure!